What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

– upstairs bathroom 1.0

Today we turned our upstairs bathroom into a shell of its former self.


the bathroom after the application of wrenches, hammers, pry bars, and scrapers

I thought I had a “before” photo on my hard drive, but it appears to be archived off somewhere. You’re spared that image of a cramped room, painted brown and furnished with builder’s-grade fixtures in “almond” shades. Nothing in it had been changed in the 28 years since the house was built.

Ah, but today, we took up the curling and yellowing sheet-vinyl flooring. (I regard every trip to the construction-and-demolition landfill as a capitulation, but that’s where it will have to go.) We’ll lay ceramic hex tiles in its place; with good care by subsequent owners, they might last the next hundred years.

The cabinet and sink top were too large for the space, so we pulled them out and will replace them with a pedestal sink. (Since the cabinet matches those in the kitchen, we’ll rebuild it and relocate it there to serve as a stand for our microwave, which currently teeters on a folding tray table. The sink top will go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.)

We’ll try to give the tub and shower surround an update (and color change to white) by applying an epoxy coating. It’s an experiment, but we had good luck refinishing the laminate countertops in the kitchen with a product from the same manufacturer.

Tomorrow, renovating continues! With it we release the weight of what what doesn’t “spark joy” and, thus, lighten up!

shedding style: demolish

Comments welcome … does it seem that, more often than not, we must destroy in order to build?


+ creative destruction (- Sun Mistral rims)

Among the great goods of the bicycle, considered generally, are its longevity. Fifty- and sixty-year-old or older bicycles endure that still serve perfectly well for the purposes for which they were designed. As with the whole, so with the parts, I say. Though I’ll cheerfully change components to adapt a bike to current needs or replace what wears out, I don’t update equipment just to stay current.

On the other hand, innovation has given us better brakes, which are greatly to be desired. For those using bicycles for practical transport, lighting is vastly improving. And though the advance is harder to observe, wheels are lighter and stronger than, say, 25 years ago. Which brings us to today’s shed.

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction.

Our “vintage” 1988 Cannondale tandem has given us much joy, but the weak link has been its wheels, which were built of Suzue 7B hubs laced to Sun Mistral alloy rims. Granted that tandems carry more and are subject to more stress than solo bikes, we’ve experienced more than a typical share of trouble where the rubber meets the road. We’ve broken spokes, snapped a rear axle, and had more flats than I can count—often because we blew the tires off the rims.

That, I’ve come to understand, is because the Sun Mistral rims are straight-sided. Even in their day, they were an anachronistic design. All but the lousiest rims are “hook-beaded” now; they have a lip that helps hold the tire on the rim. Consequently, today’s clincher tires don’t have to clench as hard as yesteryear’s. Pump them up to maximum pressure and weigh them down with a tall tandem team, and sooner or later they’re going to come off straight-sided rims with a report like a gunshot as yet another tube is laid to waste. I imagined what we’d go through if we tried them with a touring load and didn’t like the picture at all.

Last summer, I’d had enough. We bought “Early” the Burley to serve as a temporary tandem while I tore down the Cannondale for a total rebuild. I didn’t get started on that as soon as I’d hoped … but now I’ve begun. Over the last couple of days, I’ve “unlaced” the wheels—unscrewed the nipples that secure the spokes to the rim and pulled them out of the hub flanges.

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

ready for the first fateful (fatal?) step

Between a present that’s mostly unworkable but not completely broken down and a future that looks better but, being a future, remains uncertain, I often find I must cross a bridge of creative destruction. Even though I long for what’s on its other side, I find it hard to set foot upon it. What’s known is, at least, known. Can I build better wheels on the old hubs with new Velocity Dyad rims? Only trying will tell, an attempt that had to begin with breaking something.

I’ll toss the old Sun rims into the metal recycling collection roll-off out at the county landfill on my next trip there. Old bicycle spokes make good probes and picks. I hardly need 80, though. Want a few? I’ll gladly share.

shedding style: demolish, recycle
destination: community metal recycling collection

Comments welcome … what might you destroy today?


fear of the firebox

I don’t like doing masonry work or cement jobs. I’m not confident I’ll get them right, and it doesn’t help that my mistakes literally turn to stone. So when Nimue asked if I thought the cracks in the bricks and mortar joints in our fireplace were a problem we should remedy, I mumbled that they didn’t look that bad. She caught the whiff of ambiguity in my answer, though, and did some research. When she goes off to do that and returns with her tablet in hand, I know I’m in trouble. “Faults in a firebox can lead to fires,” she said. Okay, okay, I muttered, we’ll fix it. “Show me what to do,” she said brightly, “and I’ll help.”

So I issued her a brick hammer, an engineer’s hammer, chisels, and safety goggles and told her to bang away at anything loose till it wasn’t anymore.

our firebox after Nimue attacked it with cold steel; arrows point to broken firebricks

our firebox after Nimue attacked it with cold steel; arrows point to broken firebricks

I hoped just a few chunks of mortar would come out. Instead, two bricks were cracked enough to break, and in my worst imaginings of what might follow, sparks flew and a brimstone smell filled the house as I sawed them out with a grinder. But then my research suggested that, since the gaps weren’t deep, refractory cement was up to the challenge of patching them. It’s the recommended product for both original and repair work in fireboxes, since it can take heat up to 2000°F.

Nevertheless, I put off doing my part for days … which turned to weeks … but finally found resignation by reminding myself that the worst possible outcome was I’d have to hire a pro to unmake my mess. So I measured out four parts of mix to one of water, stirred and added drops till it turned to a thick batter, got down on my knees, and crawled into the firebox.

Any resemblance to a state of prayer ended then. I wanted mortar in the joints, not on the bricks, but it didn’t work like that.

Some things have to get worse on their way to getting better.

Some things have to get worse on their way to getting better.

I found I could wipe off the extra with a water-filled sponge, though.

The mortar left a haze behind, but that happens to the pros, too. They let the job cure for a few days and then clean it off with muriatic acid. We’ll try white vinegar before we escalate.

the almost-finished project

the almost-finished project

I missed two small depressions, so later today will mix another small batch of refractory cement and fill them in. I’m grateful I don’t feel any resistance to doing so. I don’t want to embark on a new career of it, but I’ve shed my fear of tuckpointing. And our project list is lighter by one.

shedding style: demolish, repair

Comments welcome … what self-talk helps you get past fears that have you stuck?


thorny olive

My environmental ethics holds that thorny olive (Elaeagnus pungens) must be a valuable member of its native Asian ecosystem. But I can’t imagine what anyone finds appealing enough about it to cultivate the species in the US. Thorny olive looks perennially parched (when its characteristic brown leaf spots aren’t making it look blighted), has sharp shoots that aren’t proper thorns but stick just the same, and periodically sends out absurdly long shoots that seem bent on tangling in other vegetation. Most departments of natural resources in the southern US states list it as an invasive species. The seeds are readily spread by birds.

Eventually we hope to find and dig up every specimen in our yard. Today we began with one individual toward which we’d conceived a specific irritation. It was planted by a previous owner outside the bedroom window, and lately on windy nights it’s scratched the siding of the house as if moved by malevolent glee … just inches from our pillowed-but-unsleeping heads.

Nimue went at it this morning with a pruning saw and had it down before I could take a picture. Small loss; it’s better to happily envision the hollyhocks we intend to try in its place.

shedding style: demolish
destination: brush pile

Comments welcome … anything invading your ecosystem?

Leave a comment »

sitting room hill

Sometime last year, our sitting room grew a hill. Like a miniature prehistoric mound arising from an alluvial plain, it rose about two inches over a diameter of some three feet. I crawled under the house to see if a joist were bidding to become a rafter. To my relief, they appeared as true as the day they were placed.

“So why?” Nimue demanded as she tried to bounce on the carpet-covered hump. “It’s been very humid,” I offered. (2013 was Georgia’s third-dampest year since climate records began being kept.) “Wet wood swells. The pressure has to be relieved somewhere.” “If that’s true, why here and not everywhere?” Nimue wanted to know—straight to the difficult point.

The answer wouldn’t be revealed till we ripped up the 25-year-old carpet two months ago. The builders had missed sinking a row of nails through one 4’x8′ sheet of particleboard underlayment into the joist below. That’s where the hill popped up, and where it stubbornly remained. Running drywall screws into it every six inches didn’t pull it down; they just disappeared into the friable substrate. Neither did several hundred pounds of ceramic and vinyl composition tile piled atop it for two weeks push it flat.

So I had to escalate. Bring on the cat’s paw, the wonderbar, the crow bar, the wood chisels, the razor knife, the hammers … and yes, cats, I think it’s time for you to leave the room: the safety goggles, the ear muffs, and the circular saw!

This hill is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-HILL!

This hill is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-HILL!

Today I shed a hill, and acquired a hole. I’m content with the exchange.

shedding style: demolish

Comments welcome … what might you shed today?